Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fire Island

Just to the south of Long Island lies a half-mile-wide and thirty-two-mile long barrier beach with a lighthouse, called Fire Island.

Long prior to Manhattan highrises and the Long Island Railroad, this lush landscape was the home of America's natives, who hunted and fished here.  As early as 1653, FI started as a whaling station that continued for over a century.  In 1825, after its construction, the FI lighthouse symbolized the first American landmark seen by many European immigrants on their way through New York Harbor.  Then, all hell broke loose in the 1950s and it soon became a bohemian Shangri-la for escapees from the concrete jungle of Manhattan. Now, it is part of the National Park Service and bungalows dot the landscape for a few lucky residents or summer renters. In short, this place is paradise.

The National Park Service website presents several possibilities for the origin of the "fire" in Fire Island.  The less colorful version cites references to an inlet name.  Poor penmanship could have attributed to a mistaken reading of "fire" rather than "five" for the"Five Islands patented by William Nicholls in 1688 in what is now the western end of Fire Island."  The racier theory involves pirates setting fire to the island to lure vessels to the shore, and the grasping-at-straws version blames poison ivy, "either for its red leaves in autumn or its fiery itch."  As a tidbit for Long Island Trivial Pursuit, it may be useful to know that FI is the the ancestral home of one of the four signers from New York of the Declaration of Independence, the William Floyd Estate.

What makes FI somewhat unique is its accessibility--or, more accurately, its inaccessibility. Although visitors to the Robert Moses park and lighthouse to the west may visit that area by car, residents [with a few exceptions not worth disclosing here] and visitors may access the pristine beaches, beach rentals or homes, and the bars only by private boats or a ferry system. Once you arrive, if you are staying a while, you can use a little muscle to schlep your stuff by a wagon.

A grid of bicycle paths connects the villages and leads adventurers to coastline views of dunes and vegetation.  The comfortable temperatures are why all the New Yorkers leave both Manhattan [and Florida] to spend their summers here.  

While approaching the dock at Ocean Beach, melodies from Jimmy Buffett songs naturally float through my brain, and every muscle in my body instantly knows it is on vacation.  However your summer unfolds, I hope you all have at least one day that feels this perfect,shared with family and friends. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Light Within: Fireflies & Moontowers

At dusk on an unannounced evening in early summer, a firefly makes its magical appearance. Like mobile lighthouses, they flicker with a mesmerizing syncopated rhythm. Almost instantly I am captivated in the moment anticipating the next appearance of these insect illusionists.

Even though they appear annually, their appearance feels as random as the magical appearance of a shooting star. I feel special, as if chosen to witness this event at this particular moment. If I had been rushing somewhere and not paying attention, I would have missed it.

The firefly has the genetic ability to make its own light through bioluminescence. Because bioluminescence usually occurs in marine life, the random witnessing of these little bugs in the throes of their mating dance has even more magic. If you have ever been lucky enough to catch one, you know that the lightning bug has not exactly been blessed with beauty; it’s beautiful because of the light it emits.

On a recent visit to Austin, Texas, I thought about fireflies in the disjointed context of viewing a somewhat unknown city treasure: The Moontowers. These not-so-attractive moonlight towers, barely noticed by residents or tourists, have a rich history that designates them as an official state archaeological landmark and part of the National Register of Historic Places. Like many cities in America in the mid-1890s, Austin erected thirty-one of these towers to provide artificial light to some developing areas of the city. Now, only seventeen remain due to "construction, errant vehicles and other unfortunate circumstances." Austin is reportedly the only city left in America that has these artificial moonlight towers. [Visit for more details]

I was reminded of fireflies because something that appears nondescript becomes beautiful when sharing its light. I love that as humans, too, we flicker our own light, through our eyes, our energy, and our spirit. We can feel inspired to bask in this light amongst loved ones and complete strangers, if we are open to witnessing it. This sentiment reflects in the light of poetry by Sufi Poet, Hafiz [translated by Daniel Ladinsky]:

With That Moon Language
Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

We can all seek to connect to such light in ourselves and others.